Thursday, August 1, 2013

Despite Increasing Violence Iraq Still Far More Deadlier Than Afghanistan In 2013

Iraq and Afghanistan are both in the news, but for all the wrong reasons. The United Nations recently released a paper noting increased civilian casualties in Afghanistan. In Iraq, the insurgency is seeing a re-birth carrying out almost daily bombings. When comparing the two, Iraq is still more than twice as deadly as Afghanistan.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) held a press conference on July 31, 2013 warning of a jump in violence in the first half of the year. UNAMA reported 1,319 dead civilians in Afghanistan from January to June 2013. That was a 23% increase from the 1,158 that died during the first six months of 2012. 2,533 were wounded as well in the first half of 2013 compared to 1,976 in the same time period in 2012. The U.N. blamed groups like the Taliban for using for more roadside bombs, which were taking a heavier toll on the population. Even if the pace of attacks and casualties were to continue for the rest of the year, 2013 would turn out to have roughly the same number of deaths as 2012 when the U.N. noted 2,754 fatalities. That was down from 2011 when 3,131 died, and just about the same as 2010 when there were 2,790 killed. Based upon UNAMA’s figures, violence in Afghanistan seems to have plateaued in the last four and a half years despite the recent uptick.

UNAMA Civilian Deaths In Afghanistan 2007-2013

Afghanistan Civilian Deaths
1st 6 mo 2013

U.N. Casualty Figures In Afghanistan vs. Iraq 1st 2012-2013

1st Half 2013

U.N. Casualty Figures In Iraq 2nd Half of 2012 vs. 1st Half of 2013

2nd Half 2012
1st Half 2013
Civilian Deaths

Violence in Iraq appears to be much worse than in Afghanistan, and is going up at a faster rate. For the first six months of 2013, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported 3,209 killed and 7,799 wounded. That was 43% higher than Afghanistan’s death toll, and 300% more wounded. For all of last year, UNAMI recorded 3,878 Iraqis killed, higher than 2,754 in Afghanistan. More importantly, the United Nations has seen a dramatic jump in violence with deaths going up 180% from the second half of last year to the first half of this one. There are two reasons for the differences. First, Iraq is a much more urban country offering far more targets for militants. Baghdad for example has an estimated population of just over 7 million people. Kabul in comparison only has a little over 3 million. Second, the Iraqi insurgency is making a dramatic comeback. Not only are Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Baathist Naqshibandi more active today, but a variety of smaller groups like the Islamic Army and Ansar al-Sunna are as well. They have been revitalized by the release of thousands of their fighters following the U.S. military withdrawal, the Sunni protest movement, and the Iraqi security forces reactive and repressive tactics, along with their weak intelligence abilities.

Iraq and Afghanistan are both suffering from instability and insurgent movements. There are major differences between the two. One is that Iraq’s militants have far more opportunities to strike at large numbers of people in the country’s cities. They are also determined to cause as many civilian casualties as possible in an attempt to re-start the sectarian war. The U.S. withdrawal also ended the Iraqi security forces use of counterinsurgency operations and swelled the ranks of fighters. That together with the current political climate where large numbers of Sunnis are not only complaining about their marginalization at the hands of the government, but calling for self-defense if not outright violence against Baghdad, and you have a nation spiraling downward with little hope of reversing things in the foreseeable future. Perhaps Afghanistan will face a similar situation when the international forces pull out there, but for now Iraq appears to be facing a different magnitude of violence.


Ahmed, Azam, “Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Rise as U.S. Prepares Pullout,” New York Times, 7/31/13

United National Assistance Mission for Iraq, “Civilian Casualties”

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, “Number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan rises in first half of 2013,” 7/31/13

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